Amid Transition to 9-8-8 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, U.S. House Passes Spanberger Legislation to Increase Support for VA Suicide Prevention Coordinators

The Congresswoman is Leading Legislation to Strengthen Funding for Suicide Prevention Coordinators at Local VA Facilities in Virginia & Across the Country

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. House of Representatives today voted to pass U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger’s legislation to increase federal support for veteran suicide prevention as the Veterans Crisis Line transitions to the universal 9-8-8 hotline.

Last Saturday, the United States transitioned the previous Veterans Crisis Line and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to 9-8-8 – an easy-to-remember, three-digit number for 24/7 crisis care. The lifeline, which links directly to the Veterans Crisis Line, follows a three-year joint effort by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to put crisis care and suicide prevention resources in reach for more Americans in need. In 2020, Spanberger cosponsored and voted to pass the bipartisan bill that led to the 9-8-8 hotline.

A December 2021 VA report expected a major increase in call volume as a result of the new 9-8-8 number. The VA anticipates that activating the three-digit number could increase call volume from veterans by between 122 percent and 154 percent.

To help meet this heightened demand, Spanberger introduced legislation — now included as part of a federal funding package the U.S. House passed today — to strengthen investments in Suicide Prevention Coordinators at the VA. This increased federal support would help make sure there are sufficient numbers of Suicide Prevention Coordinators to manage referrals to the Veterans Crisis Line amid this nationwide transition to the 9-8-8 phone number.

Ahead of the legislation’s passage, Spanberger spoke on the floor of the U.S. House about the expected increase in call volume and why the VA’s Suicide Prevention Coordinators need additional support. Click here to watch her comments, and a full transcript of her remarks is below.

I stand in support of my amendment to increase funding for Suicide Prevention Coordinators at the VA.

Last Saturday, the new 9-8-8 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline launched. Now, veterans in crisis can reach the Veterans Crisis Line by calling 9-8-8 and pressing 1. This new number will allow more individuals to access help when they need it the most — and it will save lives.

Due to this transition, the VA anticipates an increase in call volume — as much as two and a half times higher than last year, and we need to make sure that there are enough professionals in place at the VA to handle the uptick in caseloads — starting with Suicide Prevention Coordinators.

Suicide Prevention Coordinators receive referrals from Veterans Crisis Line callers and remain in contact with high-risk veterans, providing follow-up care and connecting them with resources within their communities.

The 9-8-8 number is an important step in providing mental healthcare to veterans in crisis — but it is our duty to ensure that there are Suicide Prevention Coordinators in place to care for those who’ve borne the battle.

I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting the Americans who represent the very best of our country and ensuring the success of the new 9-8-8 National Suicide Prevention lifeline for all who need it. Thank you, and I yield back. 

If you or someone you know is in crisis, you can call or text 9-8-8 or chat online at 988lifeline.org. Veterans can reach the Veterans Crisis Line directly by dialing 9-8-8 and pressing “1.”

BACKGROUND

9-8-8 is confidential, free, and available 24/7/365 for connecting trained crisis counselors with those experiencing a mental health, substance use, or suicidal crisis. Access is available through every landline, cell phone, and voice-over internet device in the United States. Additionally, 9-8-8 call services will be available in Spanish, along with interpretation services in more than 150 languages.

If available in their area, those who call 9-8-8 and need further support may receive attention from mobile crisis response teams.

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